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Deuz Robes du Mariee'
Trébucher sur une Pâquerette
(Stumbling upon a Daisy)
Fifty miles southeast of Macon, Georgia is a dirt road. And on the corner where this dirt road meets the highway is a rusty tin sign nailed to a post. The sign says “Daisy Boulevard.” Bold red letters on a dirty white background. The bullet holes and bent corners told the story of a forgotten curiosity, a thing of beauty left behind by the progress of a modern era. If, for some unknown reason, you make the turn at this decrepit road marker and keep driving for another fifty miles, deep into the Appalachian wilderness, you may (if your lucky enough) find yourself in a little town called Daisy.
There are no side streets or turns in Daisy, just Daisy Boulevard straight through to a cul-de-sac. As you enter the town (village seems to be the right word), a huge archway made of wrought iron loomed overhead. Each piece of iron in the arch was carefully crafted to look just like real ivy, right down to the veins and marking on each individual leaf. A grove of daisies on either side of the road brightened up the shade from the trees above with vibrant shades of every color imaginable. There were yellows brighter than any I have ever seen, and the most hypnotic purples and blues; the red ones were the most beautiful of all. They seemed to stand out among their floral brethren like highly respected royalty; the king of Daisy’s daisies. Just beyond the flower beds, the road changes from dirt and gravel to a very clean, red brick surface. There were sidewalks made of ash-gray, rectangular bricks in contrast to the octagonal maroon cobblestone of the street. Along each side of the road; six little shops, connected all the way down to the end of the road.
The left window of each shop had the shop’s name painted on it in a different typeface. One of the windows had “Harry’s Hardware” painted in red and white script; another said, in baby-blue block letters “All-American Athletic Supply”; but the one that stood out the most (for me, at least) was the one at the end of the road; separated from the rest of the buildings by a small flowerbed of the very red daisies I had fallen in love with a moment earlier. Above the door was a long wooden sign, painted pastel-pink with the words “Daisy Boutique” in elegant black calligraphy. It was a small, square building, built exactly like the others; two bay windows on either side of a painted wooden door frame. Forest-green, faded and peeling from decades of Georgia sunshine.
In the left window; a pallid white mannequin with no facial features wearing a wedding gown. The gown, in spite of the hideously haggard mannequin, was extravagant in its beauty, showing no signs of bleaching from the intense sunlight. Black muslin drapes blocked anyone from seeing inside through the windows. In the right window; a hand painted wooden sign held by a pastel-pink easel, reading “Antique Wedding Gowns: Rental $50/ Own one for $100 - Daisy’s own Ms. Judy offers 12 of the most beautiful antique wedding gowns ever made, guaranteed to fit or your money back!”
I can remember walking towards the door, not knowing why…
A string of tiny brass bells hanging from the doorknob clattered loudly, bringing me back to my senses. I felt sort of dizzy, though not to the point of nausea. I guess it would be similar to having a little too much champagne on New Years Eve. I felt happy, almost euphoric; like I should be dancing wildly in celebration. When I saw the shop’s interior, my euphoria faded and I was left in a drab and dreary boutique, with nothing more than what was promised by the sign in the window. The walls had been painted white and were bare except for the gowns, counterbalanced by dark-gray carpeting. At the far end was a small glass countertop which held an antique Brass National cash register to the far left, and to the right, a bouquet of the royal-red daisies in a decorative crystal vase. Behind that was a door, forest-green with a wickerwork wreath hanging in the center. And of course; twelve wedding gowns positioned along each wall, six on each side about one foot apart and illuminated by track lighting mounted on the ceiling above each case. The back of the displays were lined with royal-red velvet, contrasting the gown in a hypnotic display of mystifying beauty.
I walked down both sides of the shop to inspect each display and noticed that each gown had a distinctive energy, or aura, surrounding it. It may not have existed in the literal sense, but somehow I could almost feel the history of the dress; its past, the people who were around when it was last worn. I could almost imagine how the bride looked and how she felt on her wedding day, the most important of all days.
One dress in particular gave me an overwhelming sense of joy, and I was reminded of my grandparent’s wedding picture. It was nearly identical to the one that my Grandmother wore on her wedding day. Another dress reminded me think of the 60’s and the flower power generation and the pictures of my Mom and Dad in Honolulu at their wedding. It was almost magical, the way I could almost be transported into another time and life just by getting physically close to the gowns and admiring the detail of the embroidery and the unique, yet subtle, shades of white. Never before have I seen such delicate deviations of white; there were shades of ivory, eggshell and snow; each dress bearing its own unique tint and style with pride in its individual display case. After I had seen every dress in its entirety, I went back to the one that had reminded me of my Grandmother. I stood before the display, remembering my Grandmother and how she used to take me to her garden to pick wild strawberries when I was a little girl. I remember wanting to cry, but becoming spellbound by the pattern if the luxuriant off-white lace…
It seemed ages before my trance was broken by “Well good morning, sugar; my name’s Ms. Judy. Y’all wanna take a look at one of my gowns, its guaranteed to fit or your money back!” said a very southern-sounding voice from behind the counter. I swung my head to see who was there, but saw nothing. “Hello?” I said, hoping (and praying) that I was not alone.
There was no response for a moment. I held my breath so I could hear if somebody was sneaking around somewhere. But all of a sudden, a mass of bushy blonde hair popped out of the green door behind the counter. “I’m sorry, sugar. I’ll be with you in just a minute.” Said the bushy head. I nearly had a heart attack when that woman jumped at me, and with no warning. I have always been extremely skittish, even as a child. And ever since my apartment was robbed last year (while I was sleeping, I might add) I have been ten times worse when it comes to being cowardly. That was the main reason why I literally jumped at the opportunity to be transferred from Chicago to Miami. I would much rather deal with being a coward in a place surrounded by world famous beaches, sunny weather, trendy hotspots and celebrities; not to mention the hoards of single men with beach bodies…I mean, I am 27 years old…and single. Perhaps that may have been the reason why I felt drawn to the Daisy Boutique; aside from the subconscious urge that beckons women to buy useless clothing.
The bushy-haired woman emerged from the back room, holding a yellow legal pad in her left hand and a long, golden skeleton key in the right. “Sorry ‘bout that, Sugar; what kind of business woman am I, with the way things are going ‘round here I shouldn’t let you leave!” she said with a chuckle, “I’m just working on few things in the back to occupy some of my time. We don’t do so much business ‘round these parts no more, seems no one wants to wear an antique wedding dress these days, so I try to keep myself busy, you know?” Said Ms. Judy as she untied her denim apron, “I’m going into debt as we speak just by having the lights on and I just don’t know what I’ll do with myself if this old place goes under…”
I can see why people don’t want to wear a used wedding dress; aside from the hygiene issue (You can never be too careful, these days). The endless network of superstitions surrounding wedding ceremonies may have a lot to do with it. Despite being located in such a remote area, this little shop at the dead end of Daisy Boulevard has managed to thrive, so Ms. Judy must have been doing something right over the years. I broke the silence with “H-how long have you been in b-business, if you don’t mind me asking?” sounding like a nervous wreck. My heart was beating a mile a minute, and for some reason I was stuttering. Ms. Judy just looked at me, smiled and said “Oh, we’ve been here…eighty-five years, next Saturday.” as she hung her apron on the wall beside the back door, “Hard to believe, aint’ it? A little Ol’ Boutique in a Podunk town like this. But people come from miles around to rent these gowns; some families have come here for generations…” I noticed that when she said “generations…” her voice faded out, and she began staring through me, rather than at me. “ Ms. Judy, are you alright?” I asked, out of concern. She couldn’t have been younger than fifty-five, although in a place like this you can never know for sure.
Ms. Judy was a short woman with an embonpoint figure, bushy blonde hair that hung down to the middle of her back and thick, black horn-rimmed glasses on a chain around her neck. Her black and pink blouse had faded drastically after years of being washed and dried in the southern sun. The black Clam Diggers and matching pink nurses’ shoes were equally faded. This outfit had obviously been a staple of her wardrobe for many years. I walked over to the counter, where Ms. Judy had been standing. She didn’t move when I approached the counter, nor did she speak to me; she just stood behind the counter, smiling and staring into space.
I waved my hand in front of her eyes to get her attention.
Slowly, her head turned to look in my direction. The expression on her face remained the same as her eyes met mine; a hollow, lifeless grinning mask.
I wanted to run, I wanted to get in my car and drive a hundred miles an hour all the way to Miami, but the same eerie force that managed to drag me into this horrible place kept my feet glued to the floor. I tried to speak, but found it hard to make words come out. I managed to say “Hi, I’m sorry, my name’s Tammy, Tammy Pinkham; I’m moving from Chicago to Miami and I must have taken a wrong turn…” but was interrupted by Ms. Judy. She said “Nonsense, Sugar; nobody finds Daisy by mistake. There must have been a reason for you to end up in this town.” remaining motionless, staring into my eyes.
There was something about this woman that seemed inhuman, almost as though Ms. Judy wasn’t real a person, but a living mannequin standing behind the empty glass display case. Once again, something in my head told me to run, to get out of that town and never think about Daisy, Georgia again. I tried to move about, just to take a few steps away from the counter, but remained still, unable to move. I couldn’t tell if I was immobilized because of some outside force or by my own devices.
I knew at that moment that this place wasn’t right.
Just then Ms. Judy broke the silence, “Tammy, would you like to try on one of our dresses? It won’t cost you nothing and who knows, you may like one of them enough to come on back and get it for your wedding.” I felt like an idiot. What kind of loser visits a wedding boutique in the middle of the boondocks with no intentions of tying the knot (at least, not any time soon…), buying or renting a dress and has no boyfriend?
The kind of loser who drives down a dirt road in an unfamiliar area for no apparent reason.
I tried to reason with myself, but no matter how I looked at the situation I felt obligated to at least try on one of these wedding gowns. I did barge in unannounced, interrupting whatever it was that Ms. Judy had been doing in the back (god only knows, probably watching soap operas or doing cross-word puzzles), with no intentions of renting a used dress. So I decided to take Ms. Judy up on her offer. “I guess I’ll try one on, there’s no harm in trying on a dress…I guess.” I said, timidly.
Ms. Judy abandoned her exanimate stance immediately and began to look alert, once again. She strode merrily from behind the counter, carrying a pink tape measure in her left hand. “I’ll take your measurements first, and then you can decide which one you want to try on first.” And with that she went to work; first measuring my waist, then my hips, bust line and arms. It made me sort of uncomfortable to be touched by a stranger, especially the robotic Ms. Judy. Normally, when another person touches me, I can feel their soul, or rather, their energy. It’s kind of hard to explain to people who don’t know anything about spirituality or the paranormal, but I usually explain that I can sometimes tell if a person has a mellow personality or an abrasive one. Every so often it goes a bit deeper than that and I can tell if the person is going through an emotionally turbulent period or if they have found new love. My Wiccan friends call it my “third-eye”; I just call it women’s intuition.
When Ms. Judy touched me I got the feeling of being in a hospital; like I was sick and confined to a room with bare walls and couldn’t move or do anything but listen to the sounds of medical equipment and the clamoring of a busy staff. Although her spirit felt stagnant and synthetic, her hands were tepid and full of the warmth of life, contradicting the emptiness I felt within her energy.
Once she finished taking my measurements and writing them down on a little blue notepad, she said “I’ll be right back, you just sit tight.” And scurried off into the back room. I have to admit, at this point I was starting to feel more at ease with Ms. Judy, more so than when I first arrived at this humble boutique. I felt as if she had cleansed my mind of its vexations and granted me a wish; the long anticipated sense of well being. At that moment, I started to think that I was just paranoid and that the long, lonely drive from Chicago was messing with my head. I know that truckers can sometimes experience a form of cabin fever while on long hauls with no sleep through flatlands, but most of the time the person had been using drugs to stay awake. However, my Father told me a story about his brother, my Uncle Dave.
Mon oncle Dave Et son fantôme
(My Uncle Dave and his ghost)
My Uncle Dave worked as a trucker for Morris Lumber International, a Canadian lumber distributor based out of Whitehorse, a city in the Yukon. The company hired him out of Philadelphia and selected him to be the sole driver for deliveries on the east coast, which meant that he would be driving from Philadelphia to Whitehorse, two cities separated by almost four-thousand miles of open road. The journey took a total of three and a half days, straight through with no sleep and minimal break time. Naturally, my Uncle chose to do the logical thing and avoid using narcotics by bringing one of his trucker buddies to help him keep on top of time by driving and sleeping in shifts. As time went on, this proved to be an effective method of making deadlines and became the “norm.”
In January of ’74 Dave found himself trucking solo through one of the worst blizzards he has ever seen.
In the middle of a blizzard, the streets of Fargo, North Dakota were empty with the exception of one shrouded figure. Dave pulled over with the intention of providing a free ride and a hot meal to a lost soul in exchange for a few hours of sleep with someone behind the wheel. He pulled over to the hitchhiker and offered a ride on the condition that he drives part of the way there.
The man agrees and climbs into the idling Mack truck. He says that his name is Russell and that he was on his way to Alaska. Despite the bitter cold, he was dressed in blue jeans, work boots, a Grateful Dead t-shirt with a discolored “Steel your face” logo and a green-plaid flannel shirt worn unbuttoned in the cold. His hair was black and shoulder-length, curling slightly at the ends in all directions. His eyes were dark blue, almost as dark as the color of his hair but not as cold.
The two seemed to get along, until they reached the Canadian border. Dave asked Russell to take the wheel once they crossed the border, but got no reply. He looked back into the cabin of the dimly lit tractor-trailer and saw nothing. No evidence of Russell or anyone else.
Is it possible that I have experienced a similar delusion? Was Ms. Judy real, or was she a figment of my overactive imagination?
Ms. Judy burst forth, out of the back room with a smile on her face and said “Ok Sugar; we can go ahead and try on whatever dress you like.” I jumped a bit, startled by her sudden entry, and said the first thing that came to mind. “Oh! Umm…OK. How about this one.” The dress that I pointed out, was one of the first to capture my interest; the second one from the window, right side. The one that reminded me of my grandmother; a satin gown from the 1940’s. Off-white, decorated with filigree trim, a rounded neckline and a yoke of fine netting edged with a luxurious lace trim. The bodice had long, straight sleeves which ended in a point over the wrist. The waistline came to a small "V" in the front with a skirt, accented mid-length with harmonizing lace crenelles. I pointed at the gown in its illumed case, and vocalized my decision to Ms. Judy, who was now clothed in a pink and black checkerboard jumper dress with a matching black blouse and pillbox hat. She looked at me, then the dress and said, “Sure thing, Sugar. I’ll just get the keys.” And once again, she disappeared into the enigmatic Back Room.
I began to wonder what was in there, that Back Room. It couldn’t be anything excessively exuberant, considering the fact that most of the building seemed to be taken up by the large, mostly empty sales floor. I expected a long, narrow room; like a hallway, with a dusty old workbench along the wall, stretching all the way from one end of the room to the other. I also pictured long fluorescent lights beaming down, upon a multitude of tailoring tools and dress patterns, a ghostly-white light.
Before Ms. Judy closed the door, I tried to see past her but missed my chance by a split second. I don’t know why, but I absolutely had to know what was behind that door in the Back Room. There was no way around it, I felt drawn to it like a moth to a flame; every minute that went by while Ms. Judy was in the Back Room felt like an eternity. What could she be doing in there? Perhaps behind that door were stacks of mud-caked coffins, inside of each casket lies the nude corpse of a sentimental woman, most likely somebody’s grandmother, who was unlucky enough to become the victim of a particularly disturbing act of grave robbery. Maybe Ms. Judy was ringleader to a band of Gypsy grave robbers who specialized in stealing wedding gowns…
When Ms. Judy came back, I saw what was in the Back Room. At first, all I could make out was the back wall, which was covered in crumpled yellow newspaper clippings, and the bench, which I had pictured in my head, was the same rustic green as the front door, just the way I pictured it. But the bench was bare, and I had grossly underestimated the size of the Back Room. I imagined a space as tall and as long as the building, and about three feet wide. What I saw was a mediocre closet space no bigger than a bathroom on a charter bus; about three feet by four feet, I guess. There was, however, a fluorescent light fixture hanging a few feet from the workbench giving off a faint, yet steady ghostly-white light.
Le tombeau de boîte de bijouterie
(The jewelry box tomb)
I was only able to see into the room briefly, as Ms. Judy rushed towards me holding a large key ring, jingling the keys around obnoxiously. “Ok, were all ready for your big moment.” She said in a singsong voice. Big moment? I suppose, for some, trying on a dress may constitute an important event, but I have never been too enthusiastic about getting “dolled up,” So, I said “Sure thing, Is there a dressing room?”
Ms. Judy stopped dead in her tracks, looked at me and said “Of course we do, what kind of a Boutique doesn’t have a dressing room?” I smiled and nodded. What kind of Boutique, indeed. There’s no need for an explanation. I knew something about this place wasn’t quite right, but I went on with it anyway. She unlocked the case and removed the Off-white satin wedding gown from its dress hanger; draping it over her arm, looking back at me, saying “It’s right back here, in the Back Room…” I felt like I knew that it was going to come to this, the Back Room, from the minute I stepped foot into this dreary, rundown Boutique. She looked eagerly at me as I hesitated; glancing at the dress in her arms, then back to the door. Again, my instinct told me to run, to get out of this terrible place as fast as I could. I tried reasoning with myself, but no matter how hard I tried to run or even walk away, I remained frozen in my tracks. “Are you coming, Sugar?” Said Ms. Judy, impatiently. I wanted to say no, I needed to say no; but the only thing that came out of my mouth when tried to say no was nothing more than a mere formality. I walked over to Ms. Judy, and said “I’m ready.” And with that, we were off into the Back Room, for better or for worse…
The Back Room was a very small, square room with a bench along one wall and a full body mirror along the other. I stared at the dress for an eternity, trying to decide whether or not it was worth it. Is this just the paranoia again? Maybe not, but I will never know if I don’t make a decision soon. I undressed slowly, down to my white cotton underwear and stood in front of the mirror, admiring my figure and caressing my torso. For some unknown reason, I felt more beautiful than ever, even in such a disgusting hole in the wall. My stretch marks weren’t as noticeable and my skin appeared silky and smooth, without all the blemishes and scars that have become a trademark of a long and arduous life. Suddenly, the dress called to me. I turned around and looked at it; the off-white, decorated with filigree trim, rounded neckline and yoke of fine netting edged with the luxurious lace trim. This was my dress, it was made for me. I couldn’t let anybody else touch this dress…ever again. The feeling of the antique satin on my skin was calming, and made me want to go to sleep. I sat down on the bench and looked into the mirror.
No matter how hard I tried, my eyes would not stay open…
I awoke several hours later in a daze, although I couldn’t be sure of what really happened or how long I was asleep. I stood up and reached for the doorknob. It was locked. I panicked and started banging on the door, shouting for Ms. Judy. “Let me out of here, I’m not messing around with you Ms. Judy” I pounded on the green painted door as hard as I could, but there was no reply. It seems that my instinct was not trying to steer me in the wrong direction, after all. Feeling helpless, I dropped to the floor with my back against the green door; I felt like crying, but knew that it would do no good.
The mirror flung open like a door, revealing a very small room lined with royal-red satin. The walls, the ceiling and floor were lined with thick layers of satin. It looked plush, like an overstuffed sofa or a very expensive jewelry box. The last thing I remember is crawling into the red-satin room, ready to embrace this narcotic slumber…
Another sunny day in Daisy; another clamoring of the bells on the door of the Daisy Boutique; another lost soul lured into the clutches of this town. A young woman wearing in a lavender sun dress is drawn to the Daisy Boutique by the vibrant purple daisies on either side of the shop. She feels the spirit running through the gowns, enthralled by their beauty; but a voice from behind the counter interrupts her while in the middle of admiring them, “Well, good morning, Sugar. You thinking ‘bout trying on one of my gowns? It don’t cost nothin’…” The pretty young woman spun around, startled; “Oh, Well…I guess there’s no harm in trying. My name is Katherine, nice to meet you.” She said. The woman behind the counter cocks her head to the side, bears a lifeless grin across her blank face and says “Well, nice to meet you, Katherine. My names Ms. Tammy…”